Serena Williams of Team USA, bottom left, along with daughter Alexis Olympia, watches the action during the first round of the 2018 Fed Cup at US Cellular Center on February 10, 2018 in Asheville, North Carolina.
Photo: Richard Shiro (Getty Images)

When Serena Williams returned this year from her 14-month maternity leave to find her ranking had dropped from No. 1 to No. 453, we knew it was unfair—to Williams and the inferior players she’d be forced to face during the season. Apparently, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) thought so, too, using Williams’ plight as a catalyst to change yet another important rule for 2019.

Frankly, we were so caught up in their addressing the catsuit controversy Williams’ post-pregnancy compression suit sparked we didn’t notice a far more significant ruling on the part of the WTA. The organization announced Monday they’ve made an alteration to the “Special Ranking Rule.” It previously let a player freeze her ranking “in the event of injury, illness, or pregnancy” forcing her out of competition for a minimum of 6 months, with a return to play within three years. However, this rule was not applicable for seeding purposes.

Reflecting on Williams’ unique situation—I mean, should a number one or even top 20-caliber player be going up against the 452nd? Or does a player ranked 20th deserve to lose their hard-won ranking to the 453rd?—the WTA Board of Directors approved a number of changes to the Special Ranking Rule, adding a provision that now allows a player to use her frozen ranking to retain her seeding at the association’s events. According to the WTA site:

Under the new Special Ranking Rule:

  • A player who is out of competition for more than 6 months but less than one year may use her special ranking for up to 8 tournaments in a one-year period.
  • A player who is out of competition for one year or more may use her special ranking for up to 12 tournaments in a one-year period.
  • If a player is out of competition due to pregnancy or a medical condition, she is allowed 3 years to use her special ranking. In the event of pregnancy, the time period is calculated from the birth of the child.
  • If a player is out of competition due to adoption, surrogacy, or legal guardianship, she is allowed 2 years to use her special ranking.
  • If a player’s special ranking would earn a seeded position, that player will be drawn as an “additional seed” to play a non-seed in the first round. An “additional seed” does not bump an otherwise seeded player.
  • Upon her return, a player is eligible to use her special ranking for seeding purposes at the first 8 WTA tournaments she plays.
  • A player may freeze her ranking up to two times. Under the previous rule, a player was allowed to freeze her ranking just once.

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While Williams has issued no formal comment on the change that might’ve kept her in her rightful place upon returning to competitive play this year, many noticed a sweet and un-captioned statement on her Instagram page. The message some took from the photo of Williams enjoying downtime with now one-year-old Olympia? That whatever the rules may be, her most important rank is now “Mom.”